Yesterday, I posted my Thanksgiving Menu Ideas for this year – plenty of tasty recipes that should fit your dietary needs. You don’t have to skip out on delicious food just because your following a diet.
Today, I thought I’d try to help you out by giving you some handy tips and tricks for preparing your holiday meal. This doesn’t have to be just for Thanksgiving – try it for Christmas, Easter, etc.
Having severe food allergies has forced me to become the “all the time cook”. Literally, I wake up – cook. Eat – cook some more. Clean up – cook some more. Lay in bed and think of what I can cook tomorrow. I’ll credit it to the fact that I LOVE having a food blog 🙂 Anyway – now that I’m home with an active toddler, I have to make the most of my free time – ESPECIALLY around a holiday or birthday. We don’t have the luxury of being able to just eat whatever is available wherever we are going – that means at a restaurant or at a family/friend’s home. We MUST bring what I will need to eat. Cross contamination is a HUGE factor when it comes to eating. Even the slightest crumb can have adverse effects for hours, days, months. Essentially, I get to cook my own holiday meal and take it where we go. The plus side is that I can make whatever I want in whatever quantity I want and know that I have a safe, healthy meal easily available. The downside is the time it takes and the caution required. However, that is where I hope this handy list comes into play – as a time saver! As always, if you have some of your own, feel free to share. We can all use a helping hand now and then!
1. My #1 rule for holiday meal planning is DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. Get your necessary groceries a week in advance.
NO ONE likes to shop within the week of a holiday. Okay, some of you might but I sure as heck don’t. I really don’t want to be caught dead in a store within the week of a holiday. For example, Thanksgiving is in less than a week. To me that means stores = CRAZY! Holidays seem to bring out the worst and best of people. It never fails that I find a real jerk when I’m only needing to be at the store for some milk or something. That being said – I try to only leave the absolute necessities on the shopping list, such as highly perishable foods that need to be extremely fresh (greens, fresh vegs/fruits, etc).
2. Make a list. List out what you need to make or bring to each dinner and then follow tip #1. This can also help save money if you stick to the list (I haven’t figured out how to stick to the list yet….)
For us, we have several dinners to go to, on top of bringing my own food. I usually bring at least one big dish that I can eat, but that everyone else will eat also. Our families aren’t buying the health food kick … yet! Don’t tell my father-in-law that his favorite Coconut Cream Pie is dairy free ;). I try to make something that will please the majority. My husband likes to smoke the bird or meat so we prepare for that as well. If you know what you need to bring and what others are bringing – everything will get covered and hopefully you don’t end up with 30 packages of rolls.
3. Talk with your family. Spread out the costs and meal prep as much as possible.
We all have that sister/aunt/cousin who wants to cook but let’s face it, they just don’t have it. Help them out! Offer to let them help you with the prep or have them buy the ingredients and someone else cooks it. After all, the holidays are about family time – enjoy the whole process together. If the men in your family can cook, let them or let them shop for you! Otherwise, send them for drinks and beer. They’ll like that. Overall, communication is key to having a reduced stress holiday.
1. The meat/main = if you are preparing the whole meal, I suggest making sure you thaw your bird or other meat within a week of cooking.
That means, at least one week before you plan to eat it, remove it from freezer and place in the fridge. Don’t thaw the meat on the counter – too risky for getting unwanted bacteria. This gives the bird a few days. If after a couple days it is still frozen solid, place the meat in a large container of water. Replace water as necessary to make sure it is thawed by the big day.
2. Freezable items = make any items you can ahead of time.
Most breads/baked goods or pie crusts can be made in advance. If you insist on making homemade rolls or biscuits or pies (Which I suggest you do), make them days or weeks in advance. I have already made a couple loaves of bread, a batch of biscuits and a couple pie crusts that are in the freezer, ready when I am. This also works great for some types of cookies. You can either freeze the dough or bake and freeze. Typically, it is hard to tell the difference between a fresh baked and a thaw and quick-bake item tastes. I suggest baking completely in advance, then the day of your event, bake for a few minutes to warm and freshen up. This will also help keep your oven and kitchen clear. Honestly, the baked goods take a lot of time, work and supervision and if you can cut that out ahead of time, why not?!
3. Pre-made sides = here’s another “make ahead” tip – some casseroles or sides can be made a couple days before and then warmed up the day of.
For example, unless you are stuffing your bird, you can make stuffing in a pan the day before and reheat right before serving. If anything, you can at least crisp your bread in advance (see my recipe here). Also, if you plan on making a cold dip, make it in advance. Cold dips are usually better the next day anyway! Just keep sneaky fingers out of them!
4. Pre-cut foods = any veggies or fruits you are using for appetizers can easily be prepped ahead of time.
That being said, make sure if you are cutting up apples, avocados, etc – you use something to keep them from browning. For example, if you slice up apples the day before, place them in a bag with some lemon juice. The lemon juice will keep them from browning. Same goes for avocados. Bananas are a bit trickier – I’d wait until the day of to slice them. Prep any greens for salads the day before also. Just cover them properly to keep from wilting. If you don’t have fresh fruits and veggies on your menu, get our pen out and add them to it!!
THE DAY OF
Here’s my list of what to start when on the actual day of. Adjust it to fit your menu!
1.) Start the meat/turkey or food that takes the longest
2.) Start assembling the side dishes and being baking whichever ones are necessary
3.) Set out any appetizers (about an hour before guests show up – some will be early!)
4.) Make sure table is set prior to guests arriving – nothing is more frustrating that Aunt Sally trying to go through your cabinets looking for a glass while you are trying to carve the turkey.
5.) While foods are cooking, quickly walk through the house to make sure bathrooms are clean, rooms are tidy, etc. My mom can spot any tiny thing out of place in a matter of seconds. Plus, kids are gross so make sure they flushed, etc.
6.) Have guests help you set the table and get foods ready to eat.
7.) Enjoy the food, company, love and family time.
If you are going somewhere for dinner, here’s a list for you:
1.) Make sure your foods you are bringing are ready to go at least 30 minutes before you are supposed to leave. This gives you a little wiggle room in case your pie is taking a little longer than planned.
2.) Set a time to leave, and leave 5 minutes before that.
3.) Make sure your bags/purses/toys/etc are ready to go the night before. Don’t waste time by trying to find your keys/phone/snuggle bear at the last second. If you are late, you’ll hear about it.
4.) Help with the meal prep and most of all, help with the clean up. If you have cooked a big dinner for family, you know how much work it is and how tiring it is. Even if you just go around and pick up cups or plates to throw away, that helps. Also, don’t leave your cup laying around. You know where the dirty dishes go – in the sink/dishwasher or in the trash. (#1 pet peeve for me)
5.) Enjoy the food, company, love and family time.
My last tip in each group is to just have fun. Holidays are so stressful and nerve wracking. They don’t have to be. I’m not really one to say anything – but in my defense I over-analyze everything. Grab a couple board games or a deck of cards, show your little cousins/nieces/nephews how to play a new game or have grandpa/grandma show you an old one. Watch a movie. If you can avoid it, don’t just eat and run, unless you just really want to. If you relax and enjoy your family, everyone will have a much better time. That includes you – the control freak mom or cook that thinks everything has to be perfect and you have to do everything yourself. Don’t worry, I play that role too 🙂
If you don’t have anywhere to be or any dinners to go to – make a meal for yourself. Don’t ignore the holiday just because you may be alone. There’s always a reason to be thankful and there is always a reason to love God.
I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and holiday season!